On 25 May 2020 George Floyd died under the knee of a white police officer. On 11 April, 2021, 20 year-old Afro-American, Dante Wright, was shot by a white police officer. On 14 April 2021, I wrote down my story. In May 2021, I give it to sheCareer for distribution, so it may be seen, heard and listened to.
A Personal Encounter With Racism In Corporate Germany
Sometimes I am a black daughter in Germany. Sometimes I am a white woman in a black community. Often, I have been the new employee, from a town in the middle of Germany, who does not look like what most people expect from the name.
My name is Alina Richter. I am German. I have brown skin. This is my story.
I had a job Interview. I met great people in a tough interview for an amazing job opportunity. I got the position. I was happy. I told my friend about it.
He asked me: do you think they chose you over someone else because of your skin color?
I said: why would they?
He said: because it makes them look good to have a diverse team.
I said: I don’t think so. I think they hired me because I have an interesting resume, good grades, and performed well in the interview.
He said: ok
I said: I never thought about it like that. Maybe you’re right.
I started the job. I was part of a great team. I had opportunities to learn, to perform, to grow. I had lunch with my colleague, we talked about everything and anything.
I was asked about my hair. I was uncomfortable. I was asked about racism. I was asked whether or not I had ever experienced racism at work. I said I wish for a time where we don’t have to have conversations like this one anymore.
I think I made my colleague uncomfortable. I said I don’t think I have experienced racism at work. I thought again. I thought about what my friend said. I rephrased: I think positive racism exists.
I saw a job opportunity at a company I really wanted to work for. I looked at their website. I did not see diversity. I told myself it doesn’t matter.
I thought about positive discrimination. I thought about the website and I decided diversity should happen naturally. People should be hired for skill and for fit, like I was hired at my previous job.
I applied and I got invited. I met interesting people in tough interviews. I enjoyed the experience. I got hired. I never thought about positive discrimination.
I worked, I experienced meetings with team members, I watched the news.
I watched the murder of George Floyd.
I felt the collective trauma of injustice. I felt it as a black person in a white country. I felt it as a white woman in a black community. I felt it as a brown employee in a white company.
I felt anger, sadness, frustration. I saw the protests, I saw the injustice, I saw the solidarity, I saw the black screens on LinkedIn and all-over Social Media. I felt incredibly helpless.
I joined an initiative, I talked to my friends, I didn’t talk to my colleagues, my colleagues didn’t talk to me.
I was in a meeting. I listened to the discussion of the global consequences of the Black Lives Matter movement.
I listened to a white manager saying that we in Germany can be lucky because we are not affected as much by the BLM movement.
I listened to someone talk about how Germany has been spared because “we don’t really have this issue here”.
I felt anger, sadness and frustration. I felt the injustice of the murder of black lives. I felt incredibly helpless. I didn’t hear anyone speak up. I didn’t talk to my colleagues, they didn’t talk to me.
I was a brown person in a white meeting in a white company.
I was silent. I was alone. Discrimination has many faces of no color.
I applied, I interviewed, I was hired. I was employed at a diverse company.
I worked across time zones, borders, and ethnicities. I worked in a diverse team. I know, because I was told about where my teammates were from.
Diversity is important, but it should happen naturally. I was uncomfortable, but I appreciated the message.
I thought about the next new employee. I thought about someone trying to explain where Alina Marie Richter is from.
I was in a meeting with great colleagues, working on an exciting project. I was the newest colleague. I was the youngest person. I was the only woman. I was the only person of colour.
I didn’t think about that. I never used to think about that. I was excited for the project.
I got complimented: has anyone ever told you that you look like…
I didn’t understand the name. I assumed the person to be of color. I felt uncomfortable. I think I noticed a few seconds of uncomfortable silence from other participants.
After talking, reading and thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement. After experiencing ignorance previously, I was prepared.
I responded: ha-ha, well if you turned your camera on, I could tell you who you look like.
I was proud.
We laughed, we made some funny comments, we went on with the meeting.
I got along well with that colleague. I believe there was mutual sympathy. I didn’t question the intentions. I questioned the compliment.
I talked to other people from outside of work about the incident. I voiced my concerns. I told them I felt uncomfortable. In my life, this had not been the first time that I received this type of compliment.
I know many beautiful people exist.
I have learned from experience, so I don’t consider a comparison a compliment.
Different people had different opinions:
I was told: probably it wasn’t meant like that.
I was told: I see what you feel.
I was told: maybe it’s different when you get this compliment from someone who also has a different ethnicity. After all, the guy was born in a different part of Europe, not in Germany.
I said: No. It felt the same.
I never thought that I would write a public text like this.
I watched protests in Hong Kong, I watched the effect of the pandemic in Africa, I watched attacks against Asians, I watched someone mistake a taser for a gun.
I am Alina. I am from Germany. I am brown, white and black sometimes. I am tired of reading, watching, and experiencing discrimination.
Listening and learning helps. Empathy heals. Humanity is colorful. Diversity matters.